Barcelona, in eastern Spain is the capital of Catalonia and is a modern, vibrant and sophisticated city surrounded by sloping hills and a Mediterranean coastline.
Catalan pride and passion reached a peak with Barcelona hosting the 1992 Summer Olympics and the citywide investment these Games generated has established a truly world class destination.
For the visitor, Barcelona has just about everything one could want from a year-round, city break destination.
It a thriving, throbbing, modern city with a swathe of stunning art deco architecture sitting alongside a medieval old town which, in turn leads through the marina to the beach.
The city also offers world class arts, culture and entertainment and has tree lined boulevards and parakeet nesting parks and gardens.
To this add Barcelona’s fine beaches, which are located via an easy stroll through the marina. Beyond Barcelona itself, southern France, the Pyrenees and the northern Costa Brava are within easy reach.
Go to the beach
The frantic sometime manic pace of life on a city break can sometimes get a bit much.
This is not a problem in Barcelona, with its Mediterranean coastline. Take a stroll to the beach.
It is an easy and very attractive stroll from the Gothic Quarter through the marina.
The beach is a great place to start the day with a coffee, to break up the city sightseeing with a lunch or to unwind with a sundowner.
Walk Las Ramblas – with care
The famous, some would say infamous, Las Ramblas starts at Plaza Catalunya and ends at the Monument of Columbus and the harbour.
This boulevard was laid out in 1766 and has been a magnet for visitors to the city ever since.
Today, you will find it packed with tourists and those looking to make money off them in almost equal measure.
Flower sellers, food stalls and portrait artists, compete with buskers, human statues and trinket traders all looking to entice the tourists Euro.
And, unfortunately, there are those who see the opportunity to pick a pocket – particularly in the late evening.
The Mercat de la Boqueria
The Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, often simply referred to as La Boqueria is a large indoor public market that has been operating on the site since 1217.
With its warren of stalls selling meat, fish, fruit and vegetables it is an explosion of colour and as much a tourist attraction as a produce market.
The Palau Nacional
The Palau Nacional at the end of Avinguda de la Reina Maria Cristina, was built for the 1929 World’s Fair and renovated for the Olympics.
It now houses the National Art Museum of Catalonia which includes a gallery featuring work by Picasso.
Designed by the Catalan Architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch, the Poble Espanyol de Barcelona, was also built for the 1929 Exhibition.
This open-air, themed viilage of replica Spanish streets, squares and buildings is scattered with restaurants and shops.
The Barri Gòtic
The Barri Gòtic or Gothic Quarter, the heart of the old city and Jewish quarter, takes visitors through a cobblestone maze of centuries old churches and grand renaissance buildings.
In the Plaça Nova is Barcelona Cathedral with its Gothic cloister.
There are a number of museums and a string of restaurants, bars and cafes.
Be safe feel safe
Barcelona has a reputation as the destination for ‘pickpockets’ and with some justification.
All that is needed is extra vigilance, particularly on public transport and at the main tourist areas – particularly along Las Ramblas.
Leave valuables, including passports, in the hotel safe, use bags that can be zipped up (and worn in front of you), and
hold cameras in a way that can not be snatched.
More information on Barcelona
The one guide to get
The Barcelona the ‘city, map by map practical guide’ free from Barcelona Turisme is full of information, maps and photographs and all you will need.
Located in the city centre at Plaça de Catalunya, the tourist information centre has all the information you will need from milti-lingual staff speaking.
The centre also provides hotel information and bookings at over 300 hotels in the city and the chance to buy the Barcelona card, travel tickets, guided tours and tourist publications.
Other clearly signed information points are located throughout the city.
A place to stay
The U232 Hotel
The U232 Hotel in Comte d’Urgell is an elegant and stylish hotel suited for business and pleasure travellers.
It is located next to the Comte d’Urgell metro station and is within walking distance of the all the city’s visitor attractions.
While in Barcelona
Get a Barcelona city card
The Barcelona city card gives free travel on public transport, discounts and free offers at museums, cultural venues, leisure facilities, night-clubs, shops, restaurants and entertainment venues.
The card is available at tourist information centres in the city or online from the official tourist website.
Eat and drink at the bar
In the tourist hotspots a stool at the bar has more atmosphere than sitting outside (you will get enough of the sun) and is often 15% cheaper.
To get the best of Barcelona , stroll it.
While the manic pace of the main thoroughfares can soon drain the energy, head off into the side streets and you will discover a serenity amid these majestic buildings.
And one is never far from a pavement café or bar to sit and watch the world go by.
So much to take in
Barcelona offers the visitor so much to take in and a strategic approach to a first visit is highly recommended.
Luckily, most of Barcelona’s visitor ‘lure’ is within a relatively small area, and this makes touring on foot or by the city’s excellent public transport network by far the best way to get around.
Getting one’s bearings
A good way to start a visit to Barcelona is by purchasing a two-day pass for one of the open top tours.
Barcelona Bus Turístic
We opted for the Barcelona Bus Turístic and it was an ideal way to discover Barcelona’s most interesting and attractive sights.
The hop-on-hop-off service combines three routes and 44 tour stops.
This allowed us to take a complete two-and-a-half hour guided tour, which put Barcelona in perspective, and enabled the formulation of a ‘wish-list’ of what to do and see and, perhaps equally important, in what order.
From then on the pass acted as an excellent transport service to all major tourist areas of the city.
The third day onwards we changed to the city’s metro when necessary.
Barcelona City Tours is the other bus tour company :
To Marvel at Gaudí is a must
First time visitors to Barcelona will be stunned by the Catalan Modernism architecture of Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926).
Gaudí is un doubtedly Barcelona’s favourite son and the large legacy of his work that remains shows why this status is so well deserved.
Three of Gaudí’s best
Three wonderful examples of his work, and three of the most popular tourist attractions, are the Casa Batlló, the Sagrada Família and La Pedrera.
Casa Batlló, on Passeig de Gràcia, is a truly striking example of Art Nouveau architecture – inside and out.
The local name for the building is Casa del ossos or House of Bones, because of its skeletal quality.
Originally designed for a wealthy middle-class family on Barcelona’s most fashionable thoroughfare, it is now open to the public with proceeds use for the ongoing restoration.
The Sagrada Família
Gaudí’s best known work is the immense, and magnificent, but still unfinished church of the Sagrada Família.
Gaudí first started on the design and initial construction of the church in 1882, aged 31, and devoted the rest of his life to the work.
Work to complete his project, some thirty years away, is financed, as it always has been, by private donations.
La Pedrera, another in the Gaudí portfolio, is the second most visited Barcelona museum after the Sagrada Familia.
It also houses renaissance drawings and a collection of modern art paintings.
In addition to these three there are other Gaudi buildings scattered throughout Barcelona with information and guided tours available from the tourist centres.
A place to stay
When to go to Barcelona
Being a Mediterrean city, Barcelona can be enjoyed year round. That said, the high summer months can be very hot and the beaches very crowded.
Spring and Autumn are ideal times to visit, especially between May and June and September and October. Winter in Barcelona can be chilly but is still likely to be sunny.
How to get there
Barcelona El Prat airport, which is the city’s principal airport, enjoys excellent transport connections to the city centre.
A train leaves the airport for Barcelona every 20 minutes and takes 30 minutes to reach the city centre (Plaça de Catalunya) and a bus service runs at regular intervals.
The official yellow and black taxis are also readily available.
Barcelona is also a major hub for RENFE, the Spanish state railway network and enjoys high-speed rail links with major Spanish cities.
How to get around
Walking Barcelona is the best way to embrace the city and to get caught up in its sights, sounds, culture and passion.
The metro network connects the centre of Barcelona to each one of the city’s neighbourhoods, as well as providing access to nearby cities.
Barcelona also has its Bicing, the credit card accessed, bike hire service, with 100 docking stations throughout the city.
Barcelona has two modern tram networks, known as Trambaix and Trambesòs and an historic tram line, the Tramvia Blau, which connects the metro to the Funicular del Tibidabo.
The mountain railways
The Funicular de Tibidabo and the Funicular de Vallvidrera takes you up and down Tibidabo hill and the Funicular de Montjuïc climbs the Montjuïc Hill.
By cable car
The city also has two aerial cable cars taking visitors to the Montjuïc castle.
Barcelona’s thousand strong bus fleet will get you to all parts of the city each of the many stops explaining which lines stop there and real time information on bus arrivals.
Barcelona has a 10,000 car licenced, metered, taxi fleet.
What to eat
Being one of the world’s great cities, Barcelona has restaurants serving the full range of international cuisine in all its tourist hot spots.
However, head beyond these and you can find the side street tapas bars where the prices are lower and the character more authentic.
This is where the Catalans eat – and eat late into the evening and where the local wines are remarkably good and very reasonably priced.
What to speak
Catalonia and Spanish of course, and English is understood in most of the hotels.
However this may not always be the case when one ventures beyond.
Whatever, it is always good to speak a few basic phrases.
Google ‘simple tourist phrases in Catalan’ and take you pick.
IVA, a value added tax, is 7% on accommodation and restaurant prices and is not always shown in the listed prices. On retail goods the IVA is 16%.
A tip is not automatically included and 10% where warranted is customary.